Remembering Tech-Virginia in 1990

AJC file photo by Frank Niemeir

Scott Sisson’s game-winner from 37 yards with seven seconds remaining gave Georgia Tech one of its most cherished victories in school history. AJC file photo by Frank Niemeir

Twenty-five years ago Tuesday, Georgia Tech played one of its most anticipated, memorable and celebrated games in team history, defeating then-No. 1 Virginia 41-38 on a last-second field goal by Scott Sisson.

The game will undoubtedly be on the minds of many Tech and Virginia fans Saturday, as both teams meet again at Scott Stadium.

My colleague Tom Stinson wrote an excellent look back at the game for myajc and the print paper a week ago, which you can read here. Jerry Ratcliffe, the longtime columnist for the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va., also wrote a great piece that ran today, which you can read here.

There’s a lot of great stuff in both, including details about two critical plays from the UVA perspective in the Daily Progress story – a self-inflicted fumble and a penalty on the Cavaliers on the Tech 1-yard line in the fourth quarter.

The fumble, which opened the second half, led to a Tech touchdown and cut the lead to seven points.

“We got the ball up to around the 40-yard line to open the second half and we ran an option play, and our right tackle [Paul Collins] stumbled and his foot came up and knocked the ball out of Shawn’s hand and Tech recovered,” UVa’s (George) Welsh recounted. “It wasn’t a hit. I still don’t know how it happened. Tech got the ball and they scored and that made a big difference.”

Moore said he hasn’t seen anything like that happen in football in the quarter century that’s passed since that incident.

“I thought I had been stripped,” (quarterback Shawn) Moore said. “It was a fluke thing. He was falling down. I think that was the beginning of the momentum swing.”

The second was the goal-line stand, abetted by a Virginia illegal procedure penalty.

One of those penalties came when backup tight end Mark Cook didn’t go in the game.

“He was supposed to be the second tight end in the game,” Moore remembered. “We were in 23 personnel, and Cook kept telling [assistant coach] Tom O’Brien that he was supposed to be in the game, but we’re one player short. I told O’Brien two weeks ago at the Syracuse game that was his legacy.”

From the myajc story about the goal-line stand, particularly Calvin Tiggle’s deflection of a pass to Herman Moore.

“(Moore) had a fabulous day and at that point of the game, you’re going to go to the person you’ve been relying on the whole game. It would be me and him. When the ball came out, I didn’t know if I was (going to get to it) but I kept saying, ‘You got to get there. I got to get there.’ I was only able to get my fingertips on it to knock it away.”

Greg Lester made a critical catch on Tech’s game-winning drive:

“That last pass, we had actually run it earlier. It’s called 8-13. I’d caught it on the sideline and went 20 yards. It’s designed for the slot guy to run a 5-yard out and the outside guy runs a curl. And (offensive coordinator Ralph) Friedgen, he was great at scheming and this time, he brought the outside receiver in motion, so we switched responsibilities. I pushed up about 12 yards and popped around, and I was wide open because everybody went with the out route.”

Scott Sisson, who made the game-winning field goal:

“I remember (line coach Pat) Watson trying to tell me a joke, and he got about two-thirds of the way through it and he just kind of looked at the other coaches and said, ‘Aww, just forget it. Go out and kick the ball.” A lot of nervous laughter.

An interesting quote from Welsh in the Daily Progess story:

“I don’t think Georgia Tech was any better than Clemson that year (which UVa had beaten handily), but they ended up tied for the national championship, so they must have been pretty good,” Welsh said. “For us, it would have been nice to go all the way to the bowl game undefeated.”

You could certainly make the case from the Tech-Clemson game, which also went down to the wire, as might a lot of scores from that season. Five games were decided by a touchdown or less, and Tech was 4-0-1 in them. It was a little bit like the 2014 team, a group that just found a way to win close games.

Lastly, the game column from the late, great Furman Bisher is worth another read. Reading it brings back wonderful memories not of the game (I was a college freshman at Michigan) but of the dear man. He had a keen eye, a gift for words and a capacity to paint a picture unlike perhaps anyone I’ve read. It is one of the great privileges of my career that I was able to call him a colleague. He would have turned 97 this coming Wednesday.

 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – On a bowtie campus, in a leafy Shenandoah town accustomed more to the historic than the histrionic, college football came to pitch its fit of the season Saturday. Shy, bashful Charlottesville, so unaccustomed to such autumn frenetics, wore its best aw, shucks face, played the good host to all the doubting Thomases and Thomasinas who had come to see if its beloved football team was really No. 1, and then went home to sob quietly in its ultimate grief.

Georgia Tech beat Virginia, the team that call itself the “Hoos.” Georgia Tech rose up from its humble position of No. 16 in the polls and dissolved the dream of a kind nobody has dreamt around here since Thomas Jefferson organized the college that’s still operated by his rules.

It was pure autumn madness, graciously decorated by nature’s touch on the hillsides of this Virginia academic retreat. The day was dominated first by the color Orange, the hue of the Cavaliers. When it ended, the Orange had turned to Gold, Georgia Tech’s Gold.

This was Virginia’s high moment in the old campus game. To prove to Nebraska, to Auburn, to Notre Dame, to anybody who chose to challenge, that this was no accidental No. 1. This was not a No. 1 manufactured by a foam-rubber schedule.

Virginia led the nation in offense. Shawn Moore, the quarterback, led the passers of the nation. Herman Moore, his ace receiver, was averaging 21 yards a catch and had scored 10 touchdowns. This team has scored 50 points four times this season. No other Atlantic Coast Conference juggernaut of the past ever had.

In the end, Tech’s Jones out-Shawn Virginia’s Moore. In the end, this team that looked overmatched for the better part of a half picked itself up and found a way. They must have been as mesmerized as were these bowl delegates when Virginia took the ball and drove into Tech’s end zone as if the opposition was a frat-house team. Moore hit Moore for 36 yards, and the most optimistic Yellow Jacket in town could only have felt that deep, sinking feeling of drowning.

The Cavaliers were awesome. They came back and kicked a field goal. They came back and kicked another. They were the lion toying with a mouse. Tech had held the ball long enough to run up a total of one first down, and here they were 13 points behind.

Here it was that Jones finally got the offense together long enough to move the ball to Virginia’s 23-yard line, and he said he’d take it from there, and did, darting out of the pocket into the end zone.

From that point forward, the game turned from rout to riot. It took on the complexion of touchdown roulette. Guy with the last bullet won. Virginia produced close to its season average of offense per game. If Ken Swilling was “overrated, ” in the taunting mind of Tony Covington, a Virginia defensive back, Calvin Tiggle wasn’t. He observed “Calvin Tiggle Day” at Scott Stadium. If Shawn Moore was Heisman Trophy stuff, Shawn Jones was putting in his application.

Night began to fall over Charlottesville about the third quarter, and Georgia Tech had gotten a grip on the scene by this time. When Virginia scored, the Jackets now had answers. Finally, with two seconds left in the third quarter, William Bell crashed over left tackle, into the end zone, and when Scott Sisson kicked the 35th point, Georgia Tech was finally even with the Numbers One for the first time.

Georgia Tech has played these No. 1 teams before, and its scorecard isn’t good. One win, one tie and six defeats. Even when Sisson kicked a field goal and Tech led for the first time, 38-35, no warranty came with it. Over seven minutes were still to play, and Virginia’s is the kind of offense that can run the hands off a clock.

This torrid offense was developing glitches by that time, and twice penalties broke it down, right on top of Tech’s goal line. Once again, Virginia had to resort to the humbling field goal, which is the equal of surrender with that group.

The end came swiftly. It had to. Two minutes and 28 seconds were left when Jones got his last chance with the ball. He needed only five plays to move from Tech’s 24-yard line to Virginia’s 20-yard line. Sisson to the rescue again, just as he had beaten Boston College a year ago, and saved other days. With Scott Aldredge, his faithful right hand, holding – and after the Wahoos had called a timeout to give him “choke” time – he kicked a field goal from 37 yards, and No. 16 had closed the gap on No. 1.

The finish was written for just such a game, not to be wasted on some obscure matchup on some backroad. This was staged for national television, to decide many things, including bowl dates, conference leadership and something personal. Georgia Tech had lost to Virginia three times in a row, enough to make Bobby Ross take poison.

Now he had beaten George Welsh’s best. Not that Welsh’s kingdom has collapsed. When he came here, Virginia had the unrefined record of losing 114 times in 154 Atlantic Coast Conference games. This man, with the soulful expression of a faithful bassett hound, has given the ‘Hoos something to hoot about, a higher station in the national than they have ever known.

This will not break his life. “Don’t call this game ‘big, ‘ ” he’d said last week. He wasn’t crushed. “I never went in for that game-of-the- century stuff. We have another game to play next week.”

It was big, is big. Bigger and bigger where every old Ramblin’ Wreck made his party Saturday night. It was very, very big. If you don’t believe it, ask Bobby Ross.

 

 


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